Diary for July in France
August 17, 2007
Diary for July in France
OK I havn't been able to blog for a while, about 5 weeks of silence.
Truth is that I havn't yet been able to get an internet connection here in France, I have been promised one from Neuf Telecom company but as yet they havn't delivered. This I am relaying from an Internet Cafe in Cessenon, just down the road so I will slam out the diary I kept for the first weeks I was here.
Monday 9th July 2007
Arrived in Thezan last night having gotten off the ferry in Cherbourg at 12.30 with 1150 odd kilometres to go.
This was the first time we had decided to try and do the whole journey in one day and discovered that it is -just- possible.
We weren’t aided in this by a huge thunderstorm which came suddenly upon us just as we approached Carcassonne.
We got what I can only describe as an immense visual shock as three flashes of lightning descended in three quick lines in front of the car, these were followed by the sort of downpour in which your visibility is reduced to a few feet and your speed to about ten miles per hour, it wasn’t for the storm we would probably have done the journey in about 11 ½ hours as our clever car told us we had averaged 107.5 kph and you have to factor in lunch, dinner and pee stops in there. We were religious in stopping every two hours and changing drivers.
The only other moment of moment was when were driving under the Pyrenees and a huge buzzard, or some such bird of prey, swooped down to get some road kill right in front of us, thought the better of it at the last moment and just escaped the wheels of the car.
I nearly blew it at the last moment by insisting I knew a short cut home to Thezan and then bringing us by mistake to the village of Cazouls which was heretofore isolated from Thezan because its old, one car at a time only, suspended bridge was under repair.
Fortunately the bridge was working again so I escaped too much blame.
The house was in perfect nick when we got here so we left everything in the car and headed straight to bed.
There was the start of some kerfuffling in the Place de l’Eglise at about 6 and to my astonishment when I peered out the square was cleared of cars and lined with seats.
I woke Sile in Some excitement, I assumed they were doing up the square for a fete champetre on the 14th July which is next week.
However it turned out to be something completely different.
The local bigwig, local boy done extremely good had just died and this was his funeral.
As he had represented the area in parliament the whole of the local population was present and now as I write the square is full of bigwigs in gorgeous red velvet robes getting ready (I think) for the arrival of the body- just as we have to go and collect two daughters and one of their boyfriends in Carcassonne Airport.
Tuesday 10th July
Just before we left the body in fact did arrive, followed in the Irish fashion by the walking mourners. What was immediately evident was the quality of the suits being worn by the men walking.
This was clearly not just members of the local town council., and so it turned out, the man being buried was not only a member of parliament, and a Thezanais wine grower but also surgeon of some skill and renown. The “suits” were definitely his medical colleagues.
All this was discovered in today’s Midi Libre whish had lots of photos of the funeral and even one shot which included our house!
This I will keep and scan in as soon as I get a scanner.
We drove to Carcassonne and collected D, Eileen and Ano in the airport and drove them by back roads to the village and the Super U to stock up on provisions.
As we loaded the car with people and groceries and luggage I “laughingly” suggested that we wouldn’t make it up the hill.
It promptly didn’t and died on us.
We unloaded and Sile set off to the local garage only to find that the car did fine without us.
Today we are still not sure whether it needs attention or not.
The result was that I walked the kids up the lanes to the house, which was a good introduction to the village, if exhausting.
Anyway the weather immediately cooperated the sun shone and the house looked its very best for the family.
They all professed themselves impressed and so I was happy.
The house does look good at the moment and the building work, which involved a large crane, being now over; the view of the Orb valley and, Yes, even to the Pyrenees, has never looked better.
We barbecued last night, hamburgers, sausages, beans and Rattes for old times sakes and me making some courgette cakes for Ano, which were good too.
Wednesday 11th July
Yesterday I declared the day of the Bourride and determined to make a proper Languedoc Bourride in Languedoc.
Thursday being one of the two market days in Thezan we headed down to the fish stall in the morning only to find it wasn’t there.
Determined to get some fish somewhere (Ano is a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish and had given his approval for tonight) we went into the Hyper U, which had a good fish stall.
The fishwife got a fairly good handle on what I wanted and gutted and scaled a fair selection of fish for me. I wanted to try as many as possible so had Pollack, bass, sea bream, and mackerel as well as some mussels. She also gave me the heads for stock so I had quite a haul. The Bourride turned into a bit of a marathon as I think I had overdone the amounts of fish a bit, it was good but not fantastic.
The highlight of the night was probably the Bellinis-, which I made out of proper white peach puree and local sparkling wine.
They insured that most things, Bourride included, slipped down easily.
Thursday 12th July
Thursday was early decided on as the day of the trip to Montpellier.
We decided that this should take place after lunch, thus realistically recognising Ano and the daughters’ propensity to rise around twelve. Sile spent a lot of time ringing the number of the Amphitheatre there to try and book seats for us there for Carmena Burana, an interesting production by a German choir. She had no luck with the phone we decided to drive in on the off chance and to do some shopping there.
We took advantage of their park and ride facility again which, considering scariness of the drive along La Landucienne, as the A9 is fondly known here, (which was packed with lorries and trucks and holidaymakers,) turned out to be a welcome relief.
As soon as the tram deposited us by the comedie in the centre of Montpellier, we discovered that the reason we could get no reply from Carmina was because it was booked out.
We decided to console ourselves by a trip to the excellent and (recently reopened after extensive renovations) Fabre art gallery, mainly because they had an Impressionist exhibition going on.
This turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing.
There was a large mix of the usual Monets, Renoirs, Pisarros Sisleys etc most of the images were so familiar as to be a bit dull.
It was only by studying the paintwork closely (if you managed to escape the very attentive guards) that you could see how very clever and inventive their brushwork was..
One particular painting (by I think Monet) showed a morning scene which when looked at closely held a smear of what looked like red marker in one of the clouds.
A few steps back and the same cloud just had a faint morning pinkness about it. It boggled the mind that. How did they discover that without painting with tenfoot brushes?
Anyway by the end of the visit to the exhibition we realised that Montpellier shops were now shut, but notwithstanding we toured the closed boutiques and finally left the town at about eight.
The young people decided to stand us our dinner so we went to the very pleasant Pizzeria in Thezan.
Friday 13th July
Today was the first really hot one, with temperatures reaching the high twenties, so we decided it was time to go and test out the river Orb for swimming. As Claire and Dave, old college friends of ours were camping in Roquebrun, about 30 mts away on the river, and they said there was a good spot for swimming there, we decided to join them there.
Roquebrun is a very pretty village, pitched up on a hill of, yes, brown rock, over the river Orb.
Some of the film Chocolat had been filmed here.
The swim was good but we realised that we missed the little swim shoes that most other people were wearing and were essential for getting to the sharp rocks at the river’s edge and for walking on the squelchy mud of the river bottom.
That night was the night of the dinner on the square of the village of Thezan to celebrate Le Quatorze Juillet.
At this were fed on tables outside the Marie like a huge outside wedding. We were fed a substantial five-course meal, nothing fancy but perfectly good, from the welcoming Sangrias, to the Digestive bottle of sweet Clairette de Die and all for an amazing €8.50 per head.
We also managed to talk to some of the local citizens, which in itself will be worthwhile.
Wednesday 18th July
I asked Sile tonight what a” bat” was in French:-Chauve-Souris she told me, a bald mouse, I am disappointed with the French with this. Is this the best word they can come up with for something as important as the bat? Admittedly out “bat” is fairly banal but the German Fledermaus, while similar is at least more sonorous, the Latin Vespertilli is the best one I know.
In fairness I am not often disappointed with the French, today being a good example.
We left my sister and brother in laws rented house in Coursan this morning and headed to Beziers to some serious shopping.
We reckoned we needed to buy (at least) a washing machine, a Hoover, and perhaps a sofa to make life liveable in Thezan.
But first we had to eliminate the Megane glitch.
This is a small but totally aggravating fault in the Renault Migane.
After X amount of driving on Irish roads one or other of the front indicator bulbs becomes loose and flashes at double time.
It then needs someone with the skill and a little hand to fix this.
Our Renault Garage in Waterford was willing, especially as we were still under guarantee, we were anxious as we drove into a Renault Garage in Beziers to ask them to fix the same problem.
They after all owed us nothing.
The proprietor was charming . “Je Comprends, Je Comprends” he said to my stuttered French. (It is incredibly difficult to talk technical in French) he sent out a mechanic who fixed the light in about two minutes and then refused all payment.
One up to the French.
We spent some time in Castorama (not great, we only bought a garden fork) then found a good brasserie within the shopping precinct, which offered us a perfectly edible lunch of roast pork for €9.
Two up for the French.
We then proceeded into But, the furniture shop which we had been looking for all the time but which was shut tight between 12 and 2.30.
(One down for the French)
They had more or less everything we immediately wanted, a washing machine, a hoover, and even a very cheap (€190) Metal Clic-Clac (French for a sofa bed) which will do us as sofa / spare bed for a while.
The French will probably have got a few brownie points along this way.
That was it really.
We managed to fit the futon into the car and the hoover, (The wash machine will be delivered) and settled back to Thezan for what, we suddenly realised was to be our first time, this summer, bar the twelve hours we arrived first, alone in the house.
The doorbell almost immediately rang.
It was two of our neighbours, a couple, retired from Normandy who and just arrived for the summer who wanted to say hello.
Serge and Dani.
Of course we asked them in, gave him some Irish Whiskey
Showed them the garden (they have two windows which overlook ours) and then we had to go back and see their “chateau” (very much smaller than ours, but with a big patio and terrace.
Serge and Dani were very middle class French, charming, easy, and founts of knowledge about the locality.
When we asked them how they liked Thezan they did their best shrug: -Ils sont toutes Espagnols- They are all Spaniards.
They then proceeded to tell us how these Spaniards had come here as refugees from Franco during the Spanish civil war.
This was obviously a second wave,I have read that there were refugees from the Moorish occupation of Spain, settled here by Charlemange about eight centuries ago. Our next neighbour encounter was quite different.
As we left Serge and Dani’s house, we met, again, Francoise, another neighbour who immediately asked us in for aperitifs. She lives in a tiny, but typical Thezanese house.
Size wise this compares with an Irish two up two down but is instead three up with a room on each storey. We gather that the one next-door, which is for sale, is a mirror image of hers.
The strange thing about of these houses was that they both had something beautiful in them.
In Serge and Dani’s house it was a panel, which was working as a cupboard door on her stairs. It was of fabulous quality and obviously quite early. “Henri Second” she told me.
“I found it in the garden of an old lady I knew, she was using it to block a stream” She told me.
In Françoise’s house it was a picture in her sitting room.
Painted by someone called Chausson, I think, it was a plain picture of a woman by a table painted in the 1920’s
When I admired it Françoise said
“Oh Monsieur is a connoisseur I see, that he a very well known artist from Beziers”
I must do some Internet research.
Anyway when we got back home, finally, after these encounters, we were delighted that it seemed that the natives were certainly friendly.
Saturday Morning, 21st July
Having spent Thursday vegging and cooking, and cleaning the house, and getting dinner ready and erecting a new table for the terrace (a big plastic but solid one from the Super U, reduced to €64 in the sale and had another €10 knocked off when Sile pointed out a scratch) This activity was for Una, Martin and Colm who came to Dinner.
We barbecued some Tuna successfully and made a herb mayonnaise with garlic, basil and chervil.
Yesterday we decided to head for the mountains.
We have a problem with the naming of these mountains.
They are possibly a continuation of the Montaignes Noires, or the start of the Massive Central; the books seem to differ in the namings.
We decides to head up the road through Roquebrun, to drive up the spectacular Gorges de l’Orbe to Mons-cross over the suspension bridge over the Orb at Tarrasac and then take the D 908 (pardon for being so technical! There is a reason!) To drop home again via Faugeres where we could stop in the little vinyard of La Tour Penedesse where I had already bought some beautiful reds, and so back to Thezan.
Sile and I had a date that night as Sanseverino was playing in the Festival de Thau in Meze.
All of these plans worked well, or as well as plans ever do when we decide to move in a pack, until we reached Roquebrun.
Colm had never seen this village before and it is particularly pretty, its houses built on top of each other up the steep cliff by the river.
We started to wander around the river, mainly peering into peoples allotments and admiring, enviously their crops of White Aubergines, Oranges, Passion fruit, as well as the more usual Tomatoes and Courgettes.
Seeing all this veg made us hungry so we decided to risk having lunch in the Auberge St Hubert in the village.
The lunch was fine, would have been a treat at home in Ireland, I had a Rilettes of Tuna, a Casoulette de Mer and some cheese for €18, quite dear for France.
The waitress was not good, when I asked her what fish was in the Casoulette she just shrugged (the charm of the French shrug may soon pall!) and said, “des fruits de mer.” Making two examples of bad French service in as many days, the other, an identical example, was in the Super U the day before when we asked the assistant to open a box to look at a micro-wave we wanted to buy, she gave the same shrug and said “It is just a Micro Wave oven” and opened it with bad grace.
(Mind you I won her heart later when I offered to disassemble the table we had bought myself, leaving her to go home on time!)
After the lunch (the Casoulette contained, good chunks of salmon, fresh plump mussels, frozen squid and frozen prawns in a very good creamy sauce, served in its cooking pot bubbling hot and with some nicely cooked rice) we decided to go on the road to Mons. As we neared the bridge at Tarrasac we began to realise that something was up. We found ourselves part of a long queue of cars all heading in the same direction. By the time we began to twig that we were part of a procession to view a stage of the Tour de France it was to late to do anything except abandon the car, locked in on the road between hundreds of others and run over the bridge (closed for all traffic for the morning) and watch the tour go by.
It wasn’t the first time we had seen the tour flash past, they had had the kindness to come within a hundred yards of the restaurant in Waterford about ten years ago and we had wondered what all the fuss could be about.
We queued in Waterford for about an hour and the Peloton flashed by us in the blink of an eye.
Here with the Gorge de l’Orb at our backs and the mountains before us, with the French crowd, strung with excitement, sitting on elaborate camping chairs, eating the remains of gourmet picnics I began to realise what it was all about.
They cheered everyone who passed, the Gendarmes were stern to insure that nobody put a toe over a white line, People were wearing the colours of their favourites and even had their names written on their faces or on the road. Several people were waving yellow umbrellas to support (presumably) the wearer of that colour jersey.
There was a great feeling of being a ringside observer of an important sporting event and all for free!
The Peloton, when it did eventually arrive, seemed longer than the Irish one and the awe of the crowd and intense cheering was palpable.
Then it was all over.
The thousands who had abandoned their cars everywhere proceeded to try and extract themselves from a nightmare traffic jam.
We had abandoned ours a few yards from the bridge, a one lane only suspension job, swinging hundreds of feet over the Orb. As soon as the bridge was opened the cars on the other side steamed across only to be met by the phalanx of abandoned vehicles, now full of increasingly irate French motorists, on the other side.
There was no doubt that something was going to have to give and it was those people coming across the bridge.
This took about a half hour of fairly intense negotiation and a lot of people doing very dramatic shrugs.
As I prowled around wondering would we ever clear this in time for Sile and I to get to our concert (the Gendarmes – had disappeared,) I spotted a Carlow registration, and, as we compared notes, we were joined by a man from Piltown. Oh what an international nation we have become!
Eventually the holders of the bridge yielded, as we knew they would have to, our side won the battle of the bridge, and we escaped to join the D908 and to head for Faugeres.
In La Tour Penedesse we were treated to a tasting of whites as well as reds this time and actually had to stop the enthusiastic young man from opening some of the more expensive bottles.
I told him about our plans for a table d’hôte and he promptly gave us all a discount of 5%.
I also managed my first jibe to a French man, he complained about Le Tour de France, “I couldn’t go home for lunch, I had to have a sandwich”
“C’est grave ça pour un homme Français” I said.
He saw he was being ribbed and had the grace to laugh.
The Sanseverino concert was a bit of a mixed bag.
Sanseverino, whose cds I have played to extinction, has progressed and I haven’t progressed with him. He refused to play his old music, from the nineties, except jazzed up parodies of the same.
Who can blame him? I am sure; giving concerts constantly you become rightly browned off with playing the same stuff in the same way.
He still proved himself a brilliant musician, with a marvellous skill for verbal gymnastics, but at the third interminable, guitar solo we declared we had had enough and slipped home quietly.
The event was quite something though.
The people of Meze had cordoned off a large section of their Quay and there set up various stages and food stalls.
Once you had payed to go in, (and I think there were about two thousand of us, at €29 a head) you were free to purchase on the stalls, and could eat plateaux de Fruits Mer, local Oysters or even Sandwiches and Frites and drink Picpoul de Pinet until the cows arrived.
The festival was beautifully organised with something for everyone inside the enclosure.
There were seats in a grandstand for the old folk, like us, a huge mosh pit area, and everywhere else rows of trestle tables and chairs where people were tucking in to their nosh. (You were searched going in and no food or drink was allowed past the guards, everything had to be purchased inside)
The most remarkable difference between home and abroad at this concert was the cleanliness of the site.
We were sitting near the rubbish bins, these were separated into the usual, recyclable etc. categories.
Everyone, young, infant or rebellious youth used these meticulously and by the end of the night there was not a scrap of litter anywhere, that despite an apparent lack of stewards on the floor.
Bravo to the people of Meze.
Besides Sanseverino (and really it was more our fault than his that we hadn’t kept pace with his progression,) there were two excellent groups.
La Mal Coiffée, a feisty group of six ladies from the Languedoc.
Described as “Polyphonic” in the programme, a world music term which I find a bit worthy, they were funny, musical, harmonic and catchy and I would have thought very feminist, that is if I could have followed all the words, as they sang a lot of their songs in Occitan this was not always possible. (Truth to tell all of their songs could have been paeans to wife beaters in Occitan but their body language seemed to say otherwise.)
Next band up were called Bombes 2 Bal and it took us some time to get the hang of what was happening here.
From appearances they were just a noisy folk/dance band, a sort of French Sly and the Family Stone but then you started to notice that two of the members of the group were down in the ground working away with the crowd in front of the stage and that one of the band members was giving directions out to the crowd as the music went on.
Then the core group of dancers began to expand and before their set was up this band had several hundred dancing rounds, chains and schottisches with seeming skill loads of enthusiasm.
Irish festival organisers please note.
They even did a passable (if dance) version of A La Claire Fontaine that Sile has been known to sing if pushed by her husband.
Tuesday 24th July
As soon as I realised that we weren’t likely to be having builders in this summer I realised that this gave us a great opportunity to invite friends and family out to stay as our guests and get the feeling of what it will be like to live in and run a chambre d’hote, a place which both is and isn’t ones family home.
We have succeeded fairly well in getting people to stay and so far have had a succession of guests and a line up of further ones arriving which will bring us up to mid August or thereabouts before we will be alone.
It is both more difficult and less demanding doing this on a friends/family basis at this stage.
More difficult because we are doing the entertaining, and most particularly the cooking, on some pretty primitive equipment.
I have to cook on three ring camping gas rings, but I have bought a tiny Moulinex oven/grill which has proved to be a winner, an electric steamer, which we have hardly used, and my latest purchase, a microwave, which is bound to be handy.
(The Moulinex cost under €60, the Microwave, €41, things are certainly cheaper here)
I have adapted my bread recipe slightly to make it a bit more southern French and have twice made bread now in the little Moulinex.
I can already imagine that anyone reading this will be horrified at the thought of someone going to France, the home of the baguette, and cooking their own bread, but, truth to tell, the appeal of the baguette soon palls. Its charm lies really in its crisp freshness, this is extremely transient and once one has discarded ones hundredth stale baguette one finds oneself longing for a bit of bread with a little more shelf life.
My own brown bread, made with fifty percent strong white and strong brown flours with a liberal dollop of olive oil tastes just as good a few days after it has been cooked and freezes for weeks without problems.
Knowing my own confusion when confronted with French bread flours last year I anticipated my self this year and brought out several kilo bags of both strong white and brown.
Strangely they do seem to taste different out here. This may be due in part to the climate, they do rise in double quick time, and they also, to my surprise, rise much more than they used to at home.
(I was talking about this to my brother-in-law Colm, saying what a relief it was to be in a climate where one wasn’t spending hours trying to persuade bread to rise in hot presses,(airing cupboards to the non-Irish) on top of low ovens or over sinks of hot water. Colm said that the only way he could persuade his bread to rise was by putting on the central heating, even in mid summer!)
This in itself has led to problems in my little Moulinex. The bread rises so much that the top often burns, or caramelises in the oven.
The first time this happened I wondered if this could have spoiled the bread, but to my relief this wasn’t the case, in fact it has seemed to add an extra nuttiness to the bread which is quite pleasing.
But I have digressed from the pros and cons of having guests in our situation.
Obviously because people aren’t paying, they are a lot more prepared to rough it and to lower their standards to suit what is available.
The real test though is the lack of privacy, which will remain the same when we open properly for business..
This makes us feel that it is going to be essential to convert some part of the attic as a sitting room for ourselves, this was in the plans, but was something we were considering doing without, should costs get too high,
I now think it should be one of the first priorities.
Sunday 29th July
We have been here now for nearly three weeks and the thought that strikes fear in my heart is that we have only another four weeks left. Ludicrous when I think that up to three years ago I had a mere fortnight for my entire allotment of holliers.
We are very settled now in the house here and it has quite a high standard of comfort. The washing machine arrived on Thursday last and that makes a huge difference to our life. They three men arrived from But to deliver it, wouldn’t leave before it was both connected to the mains electricity and water and had had a trial run. Three stars to the people in But.
Our life here so far has been like a rehearsal for the real business of funning a Chambre d’Hote, we have quite regularly had 6 or 8 people for dinner and breakfast.
Breakfast usually consists of my compote of apricots, there are hundreds around at the moment and they are at their cheapest.
I have discovered that the best compote is made with slightly hard ones poached in their stock syrup until just soft and then eaten well chilled.
I have now mastered the art of making brioche in my Moulinex and it makes superb brioche just as it made superb bread.
In this I have been helped enormously by my latest purchase.
I bought a bright red Kenwood Patissier beater, which comes complete with dough hook, and have found that it converts my brioche mixture into totally delicious brioche.
The smell of this cooking in the Moulinex must be one of the greatest known appetite stimulators.
(When the delivery men from But were installing the washing machine they smelled the bread cooking and were entranced. They praised Sile on the quality of her bread, she was gracious enough to give me the credit and I was certainly looked at with more respect after this, there is no doubt in my mind that French men are far more interested in food than their Irish equivalents.)
Lunch is undoubtedly lighter than Ireland. It usually centres on some variation of a tomato salad, usually liberally seasoned with fresh basil. Today, remembering one of Elizabeth David’s recipes I mixed the tomato with red peppers and chopped white peaches. This was pretty good too.
I am in a personal heaven with the abundance of white peaches available here at the moment. These have been my favourite fruit since childhood. My mother always grew some in the greenhouse in Tree Tops and the combination of the scented smells of these and the tomatoes growing in the same space was at times quite intoxicating. To this day I consider the scented flesh of a white peach infinitely more delicious than his blander yellow cousin.
Of course they never ripened properly in Ireland and always had to be eaten with lots of sugar, they always remained stubbornly white in Ireland also, they never achieved the dark red tones of some of the riper ones in the Languedoc.
I have I confess been overindulging in these since I arrived here.
It was thus that I have made my GREAT SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY.
As I finished a minor eating bout of these a week ago I had a strange sensation in my mouth as all of the tartar at the back of my bottom teeth dissolved into a rough heap of gravel at the bottom of my mouth.
Now I have always been a huge gatherer of tartar and am constantly abused by my dentist for this build up of plaque.
On my last visit to this lady she had had to clean my teeth again (after only six weeks) and then delivered her customary lecture about the importance of flossing.
Now I can laugh at the face of flossing as I have discovered the secret of the White Peach Effect and eat them in huge quantities.
My mouth now always feels plaque free, and, I need hardly mention, that this is far less painful than being hacked and ice picked free of the same in a dentists chair.
The main thing I lack down here, this after nearly four weeks, is my Internet connection, and that hopefully is on its way.
Otherwise I am a bit like the pig in the proverb and wallowing in the muck.
We have had a great succession of visitors, not all close friends, but all leaving as close friends and I do think the place has a bit of magic in this.
It is hard not to be seduced by its charms, the very ancientness of the building, the unexpectedness of a garden here in the middle of a village and then again the unexpectedness of the view down over the valley from the terrace.
I keep saying things like, what I really like about the house is…
So here, in my usual anal fashion, is a list:
The best things about this house are
The terrace, the fact that it easily big enough for a 12 seater table, should we want one, and has such lovely changing views over the red rooftops of the town to the Puech on one side and then all along the Orb valley down to the shadowy Pyrenees. Most of our day and all meals are on the terrace.
The Garden, we knew we wanted one, and quite happily accepted the wilderness, which we had appeared to buy, but now thanks to everyone’s efforts, but principally those of Ano, Colm and Sile has turned into a very formal garden, with little paths which the priest (so our neighbours tell us) used to walk as he said his daily office, and also full of the vestiges and sometimes the surviving remains of plants which tell us that it was once very much loved.
The Tree, an Indian Lilac, which dominates the whole garden. This tree which we wondered if we would have to get rid of to fit in a pool but which now is the sine qua non of the outside. It provides us with shade, with a constantly moving background of swaying leaves and also with its own music as it moves and shifts in the breezes. From the pictures we took of the house last August we can see that it is now both greener and leafier now than then, I think it likes the company.
Next best thing about the house must be that it is cool. We have been enjoying terrific weather since we came, by that I mean we have been seeing plenty of sun but it hasn’t been too hot, temperatures about the high twenties and low thirties. Last week this changed as the temperatures started to soar and began to go into the high thirties. This was the moment when we discovered the advantages of living in an old stone house with windows with heavy shutters and old tiled floors; - it is cool, the stones retain the chill of the night and the shutters keep out the heat of the day. It has a kind of early air conditioning.
Next the village, which is just the right size. It has a café, a post, a butcher/charcuitier, a chemist a sort of crazy general shop that rents DVDs, sells vegetables, some groceries, and bread when the baker is shut thus it has two names on its front, Le Point Chaud and Le Point Show. Just outside the centre is a very large Super U supermarket, which obviously serves the whole area and stocks just about everything. There I have bought my microwave, my Moulinex Grill, the large outdoor table we eat on and loads of crockery, pots and pans, not to mention most of the food we have eaten. Sile got herself signed in early on with a loyalty card and I fantasise that when the figures hit head office we may be given years of free shopping.
Next the Village People. My feeling about these is that they doing a perfect job. They are being friendly and supportive without at any time being intrusive. We have always felt at home in French villages, much less so in French towns. The French mastered the village a long time ago, it is evident from the rural pattern of their living that they congregated in villages from their farms much more than we ever did in Ireland. Once you leave a French village you are in the country, there is very little ribbon development on the roads and few isolated farm houses. I think that this is the reason why the French thrive in villages and, even on our street, they spend a lot of time socialising and using the street as a congregating point. We may even become part of it ourselves in due course.
Back to the house again for the next on the list. This has to be a sort of list within a list of the features of the house, which excite me; -The big high rooms, the windows, which really work and open fully, the beams and the coffered beams and the old mouldings we are finding on the ceilings, the attic with its window in the wall which is causing me to burble endlessly on about the age of the house which I am sure it must be contemporaneous with some of the church buildings (the house next door, to which we are completely attached is on the market at the moment as being “16th century”)
I must finish up my list with the area, Herault, Languedoc and Languedoc Roussillion. Amazing to think that this is still an undiscovered part of France. Its coastline is one long beach (which everyone loves except me) the beautiful Canal de Midi meanders right through it, and it boasts mountains and mountain scenery, of which it has kept such a secret, that we are having great difficulty finding out what they are called.